Reviews of “Grand Amateur Theatricals” at Melton Mowbray


Our reader may perhaps recollect that in March, last year, an experiment was tried at Melton, for the first time, of a series of amateur theatricals, in which the leading parts were portrayed by members of various distinguished families. This was done with a two-fold view; first to attract company to “the hunting metropolis,” and also at the same time to benefit the public charities of the town. Two performances were given, both of which proved successful, and a handsome fund was raised for the purposes intended. The principal promoter of this scheme was the Earl of Wilton, a nobleman greatly esteemed by all classes in Melton, for his kindness of heart and courtesy towards his poorer brethren. His name is revered by all parties in Melton, and it is not saying too much when we add that he is one of the leading supporters of the place. The princely gatherings which are wont to assemble at his house during the hunting season, have tended in a great measure to make Melton hold the proud position she does — the head-quarters of the chase. This year his lordship has determined to carry out his idea on a larger scale. Two dramatic performances were arranged to be given; a promenade concert, and a performance of the “Messiah.” The mere announcement of these attractions was the means of drawing such a large and aristocratic company into Melton as had never been seen before within the memory of the present generation. Since the beginning of the week, the town has been daily filling with visitors, and so great has been the demand for lodgings, that we have heard the somewhat fabulous price of a guinea has been obtained for a bed. Fortunately for some parties who would not be disposed to give these prices, a very convenient arrangement has been made with the Midland Railway Company, by which visitors have been conveyed from Leicester to Melton and back each evening at ordinary fares by a special train, which returns at midnight after the performance, thus proving the means of securing an additional attendance of visitors. We understand three or four private residences have been fitted up for the accommodation of Lord Wilton’s friends, and the Hon. H. Coventry has also a large party staying at his house. The latter gentleman on Tuesday evening gave a grand ball at Coventry-house, the dining-room of which was beautifully decorated for the occasion. About 150 members of the leading families then staying in the town and neighbourhood were invited, and, we need scarcely add, the occasion proved a very brilliant affair. A splendid supper was provided, and the proceedings did not terminate til a late hour...

The first dramatic performance was fixed to come off on Wednesday evening, in the Corn Exchange, which was fitted up at a great expense for the occasion. Besides being appropriately decorated with flags, &c, a very useful addition was made in the shape of a double gallery, which was erected at the far end of the room. These galleries will accommodate about 200 persons, and are intended to be a permanent structure. They were erected under the superintendence of Mr. Winter Johnson, architect, of Melton, and the whole arrangement and design reflects the greatest credit upon that gentleman. We believe the expenses of this alteration, or rather addition, to the Corn Exchange, will be about £150, which is to be paid for, we are told, out of the proceeds of the dramatic fund; and the inhabitants of Melton now possess a room second to none in the county for convenience, with regard to concerts and other amusements of a similar nature. Too much cannot be said of the “fittings” in connection with the stage, everything having been done in the way of scenery and appliances, to make it resemble a theatre, as far as the construction of the room would allow. The proscenium is painted so as to represent scarlet drapery, and is surmounted by the Melton arms. A beautifully painted drop scene has also been put up, adding greatly to the effect. The scenery, which is entirely new, has been painted under the direction of Mr. H. Craven, and the designs have been chosen specially to suit the pieces. We never saw a more complete theatre — everything having been provided which was necessary to give the effect of entertainment. The performances on the first evening commenced at half-past seven o’clock, by which time the room was crowded in every part by a very fashionable audience — the room at this time presenting a brilliant and dazzling effect....

A splendid band was provided for the occasion, consisting chiefly of amateurs, under the direction of the Hon. Seymour Egerton; the services of Mr. H. Gill and Mr. Nicholson, of Leicester, having also been secured. After the overture, which was very nicely given, the curtain rose upon the play of “A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing.” With regard to this play, it is only necessary to say that — considering that it was rendered by amateurs — it was very creditably sustained throughout. The dresses, which were supplied by Mr. Nathan, of London, were really superb, and the appointments were exceedingly correct. Perhaps, under the circumstances, it is hardly fair to criticize, but we cannot but especially mention the admirable rendering of the somewhat difficult character of “Anne Carew” by Lady Katharine Egerton. Her interpretation was exceedingly natural, and was given with such ease and grace that one might fancy he was listening to a professional actress instead of an amateur. Lady Alice Egerton, as “Dame Carew,” Colonel de Bathe, Mr. Twiss and Capt. Hartopp were also exceedingly good — each displaying a full knowledge of the requirements of their parts; but the remarkably clever tact and ability exhibited by a young lady — to all appearances scarcely 12 years of age — Miss M. Terry, was somewhat surprising. We never remember seeing one so young who appeared to possess such an intimate acquaintance with the part she was playing, and the repeated encores which greeted her, almost at every sentence she uttered, were well deserved. At the close, all the characters were honoured with a call before the curtain.

After a short interval, in which the audience were favoured with some excellent music, the laughable farce of the “Mummy” was given... This slight sketch was in some measure the feature of the evening; the piece, as our readers are doubtless aware, is exceedingly well written, abounds with wit, and when well represented cannot but delight an audience. On this occasion it was admirably represented. Every character was well cast, and we hardly knew whom to admire the most. Without at all wishing to be invidious, we cannot help mentioning the Hon. S. Whitehead; his “Toby Tramp: was done to perfection. His portrayal of the disguised mummy was a piece of gracious acting — he entered into the very spirit of the character, and his delivery throughout showed that he was thoroughly suited to the part. His comic power is certainly very great, and we were not surprised at the audience giving way to their feelings by frequent bursts of laughter. This gentleman is certainly the best “mummy” we have seen in our day, and the frequent encores he received were richly deserved.

Sheridan’s well-known comedy of the “Critic; or a Tragedy Rehearsed,” brought the evening’s entertainment to a conclusion... This play, so very different in its nature from the last, requiring as it does a thorough knowledge of the dramatic art, to represent the characters properly, it was not to be expected that it would receive the same justice at the hands of amateurs as from professionals, and consequently it did not go off quite so smoothly as the former piece. It was only surprising to us that it should have been got through so well as it was; for although the dramatic effect given to each character was hardly equal to the requirements of the piece, yet its representation was somewhat beyond the average of amateurs. This piece was over by twelve o’clock, and the audience then separated. We shall give full particulars of the remainder of the series of performances in our next week’s publication.

Leicester Journal - Friday 01 February 1861
Text reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive.


Melton Mowbray has witnessed many a gathering of the noble and wealthy of the land, but  none more imposing than that of the past week. The brilliant assemblage was drawn together to countenance and support a series of Theatrical and Musical Performances, by gifted and noble amateurs, who whilst affording refined and intellectual amusement, had an ulterior object in view — an object most lovely and most kind, viz.:  Benevolence to the poorer portion of God’s intelligent creation. The efforts of the former year carried comfort to some one or two hundred families during the excessively severe weather that is now happily passed and gone.

The noble Earl of Wilton and his rompers seem to have spared no expense and no endeavour to make the various entertainments worthy of the occasion. The Exchange Hall had been fitted up with a double gallery capable of accommodating upwards of 250 spectators, without interfering with the body of the room, and at the upper end a stage had been erected with all the necessary appliances. Mr. Craven, from the metropolitan theatres, has been occupied for some time in preparing new stage scenery on an extensive scale, far surpassing that used at the performances last year.


Before the hour specified for the doors to be opened, a large number of well-dressed ladies and gentlemen, on foot, had gathered in front of the Exchange and after their procession carriage after carriage set down its fur and fashionable occupants... Punctually at the hour specified, the Hon. Seymour Egerton assumed the position of conductor to the orchestra, and the “Wandering Minstrels” gave an Overture with a precision and brilliancy that could scarcely have been surpassed.

At 7:45 the curtain rose for the presentation of the original drama “A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing.”...

The old proverb of “a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” is reversed in this drama. The scene is taken from the time of King James, when traitors were abundant... The characters throughout were very striking, and fairly riveted the attention of the audience. The principal characters were efficiently sustained. Lady K. Egerton’s Anne Carew was a very artistic performance, and the part of Colonel Kirke by Colonel de Bathe received also the repeated encores of the assemblage. Dame Carew also found an able representative in Lady Alice Egerton. The character of Keziah was well developed by Miss Boyle, and Sybil’s appeal to her parents was expressively rendered by Miss M. Terry, a young lady who has seen some eight or nine summers.

The drama was followed by the farce of “The Mummy”; The Hon. S. Whitehead kept the house in a roar of laughter as the veritable Pharaoh (Toby Tramp) preserved in pickle for three thousand years; E.S.E. Hartopp, Esq., Captain Hartopp, and the Hon. F. Ponsonby contributing their quota to the gratification of the audience. The singing and dancing of Toby in his merry costume called forth a burst of applause and an encore, in which the gentlemen of the hunt were prominent, and greeted their brothers of the field with cries of “ bravo!”  “ bravo!”

Sheridan’s Comedy of “The Critic, or a Tragedy Rehearsed,” concluded the entertainments... Owing to some unforeseen circumstance, E.B. Hartopp, Esq., M.P., did not take the part of “Sneer” or “Captain Canter,” according to announcement; and the “Beefeater,” as well as “Toby Tramp” were represented by the Hon. S. Whitehead, instead of the Hon. S. Ponsonby.

Some were inclined to think that a better selection than “The Critic” might have been made, and that after the deep anxiety of the drama, and the thorough merriment of the farce “Rehearsal” was somewhat tedious. We cannot coincide with this opinion. It appeared to us that the most care had been bestowed upon this piece, and that the characters were well sustained throughout. The dresses of the various performers were superb, and got up in the most correct style, by Mr. Matthews, Tichbourne Street, London. The head dresses were under the superintendence of Mr. Wilson, Strand, London.

The intervals between the performance were enlivened by the “Wandering Minstrels,” but as we shall have to refer to them in our next, we refrain from further allusion to them.

SECOND EVENING — On Thursday evening a “Grand Promenade Concert” was given by the “Wandering Minstrels.” The orchestra numbered about 30 performers. The attendance was not what had been anticipated, the room being scarcely half full...

THIRD EVENING — Theatricals were resumed last evening with as brilliant effect as on the preceding occasion, and before an audience fully equal in number. The Drama of “Prison and Palace” was selected... The scenery of the Prison and the Palace was superbly executed.; and Lady Katharine Egerton, as Elizabeth sustained the character with telling effect. Her appearance on the stage on horseback, as an Empress, was received with loud acclaim. Feodora was also perfectly rendered by Lady Mary Craven. As for the gentlemen, they could do no other than follow the excellent example set them by the ladies — their acting was good.
This was followed by the farce of “Shocking Events,” characters as follows, — Puggs — Q. Twiss, Esq; Griffinhoof — E.S.E. Hartopp, Esq.; Spoff — Colonel de Bathe; Dorothy — Lady Alice Egerton; Maid — Miss Mary Boyle...

The short space at our disposal at so late an hour prevents our doing justice to the brilliant and effective performances of this evening.

On Monday, these entertainments will terminate with the “Messiah.”

Grantham Journal - Saturday 02 February 1861
Text reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive.